23 former Seattle firefighters sue city, chief over firings due to vaccine mandate

The city of Seattle and Chief Harold Scoggins are facing a lawsuit from a group of 23 former Seattle firefighters for religious discrimination and wage theft. The suit is tied to the firefighters’ decision to not get vaccinated.

Every plaintiff filed for a religious exemption. None of them were given accommodations, and the suit alleges that no attempt was ever made.

Josh Gibbs, one of the 23 firefighters suing the city, said he was discriminatorily fired.

"It very much seems like it was purposeful like there was intent or malice," said Gibbs.

Gibbs spent more than a decade with Seattle Fire Department. Thinking back, he remembers as a child dressing up as a fireman on an elementary trip – it was a dream that stretched back to childhood. His path, however, took a long road: including stops in the military and construction before ultimately becoming a firefighter.

Now, he’s uncertain whether he can ever don the uniform again. He told FOX 13 that some of the men and women that are suing would jump back in a heartbeat, while others would rather stay away forever. Gibbs said he’ll find the answer if the opportunity arises. For now, he’s back in construction and trying to figure out what the next step is.

"This is still very visceral," he said. "The scars haven’t healed."

The suit seeks lost wages, pension contributions and damages. An exact dollar amount isn’t given.

Gov. Inslee drops COVID booster mandate for WA state workers

Questions are now being raised about Governor Jay Inslee’s reasoning for lifting the COVID booster requirement for state employees, including ferry workers and state troopers.

As the attorney writes, the 23 firefighters were given a choice that was against their religious beliefs: "disregard their sincerely held religious beliefs or lose their chosen professions and livelihoods."

The Seattle City Attorney’s Office tells FOX 13 that they’ve seen the lawsuit, and are currently reviewing it.

"We have reviewed the litigation and are preparing a response to the lawsuit on behalf of the City and Chief Scoggins," a statement read. "We would be happy to share a copy of our response once we file it."

This isn’t the first legal action to be filed in regard to vaccine mandates. 

In August 2021, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a proclamation that all state employees, as well as K-12 and public university staff, had to be fully vaccinated by mid-October or get an exemption, or they would face termination.

That caused a flurry of legal maneuvers. As the October deadline approached, federal judges denied three attempts to get court orders to "stay" the decision in a matter of two weeks. All of those challenges claimed constitutional rights were violated, and that exemption requests were not properly handled.

On Sept. 8, Inslee announced the remaining COVID state of emergency proclamations would end on Oct. 31, which includes the vaccine mandate proclamation. 

It’s unclear how far this latest lawsuit will end differently, but for firefighters like Gibbs, there is still hope that leadership in Seattle can make new decisions. Since the firefighters have left, he noted there’s a new Mayor and a new City Attorney.

"They still to this day have the opportunity to do the right thing," said Gibbs. "What do you want? It’s the same thing for the Chief, the same thing for the mayor and the city attorney. What do you want your legacy to be?"